Earth­lings

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - Ni­cole Kelly West­man

Against an ice-blue wall, nine ce­ramic faces look out­ward: a man with snow gog­gles, a hunter, a smil­ing woman, one with tat­toos, an­other with a pin­niped fin hair­style, a smil­ing girl, an an­gry woman and two women with geese, one with it atop her head and the other with it emerg­ing from her mouth. Cre­ated by Kangiqliniq (Rankin In­let)-based John Kurok, these ex­u­ber­ant and pre­dom­i­nantly fem­i­nine faces are sur­rounded by other women: a univer­sity grad­u­ate, an idol, a web-spin­ning spi­der and face­less, hol­low and veiled fig­ures. Large-scale graphite and coloured pen­cil draw­ings by Kin­ngait (Cape Dorset)-based Shuvinai Ashoona, RCA, de­pict­ing al­lur­ing cam­ou­flaged, coded and trans­par­ent vul­vas, fill the walls.

They are joined by colour­ful, de­tail-ori­ented draw­ings of caves, grot­tos and canals, clear ref­er­ences to fe­male bi­ol­ogy. Ashoona’s fem­i­nine cos­mos weave through­out many of her works in the show and are poignantly ar­tic­u­lated in Un­ti­tled (Birthing Scene) (2013), which fea­tures a woman giv­ing birth to a uni­verse, sur­rounded by her chil­dren. This fo­cus on fa­mil­ial bonds is also taken up in the work of Pierre Aupi­lard­juk. In a re­cent piece, Nu­li­a­juk (2016), the con­nec­tion be­tween tra­di­tional Inuit iconog­ra­phy and the im­por­tance of re­la­tions is made tan­gi­ble. The work de­picts the artist and his father watch­ing, with elated an­tic­i­pa­tion, as sev­eral seals emerge from var­i­ous van­tages across the smoke-fired ves­sel.

Cu­rated by Shauna Thomp­son, Earth­lings presents “space, and how we oc­cupy it, [as] a po­lit­i­cal as well as a prac­ti­cal con­cern.” These com­ments are par­tic­u­larly res­o­nant in light of the in­clu­sion of works by Ashoona, Aupi­lard­juk and Kurok, as well as Roger Ak­sad­juak, Jessie Ke­nalo­gak and Leo Na­payok, along­side Shary Boyle, who ex­panded the scope of what was to be a solo ex­hi­bi­tion to in­clude these artists. This was a wise choice given the vi­tal­ity and aes­thetic strength of the works by these north­ern artists. Prac­ti­cally, Earth­lings is beau­ti­fully ex­e­cuted. Plinths are made taller so sculp­tures meet the viewer’s eye. But the po­lit­i­cal ges­ture(s) are per­haps more coded. My ex­pe­ri­ence of this space is that it is oc­cu­pied not only by the sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence and skill of the Inuit artists, but by works by, for and about women.

At the artist talk for Earth­lings on the af­ter­noon fol­low­ing the open­ing re­cep­tion, the seat­ing choices were slim, a feat I con­sid­ered re­mark­able with the talk sched­uled in con­flict with the In­ter­na­tional Women’s March. As Cal­gary’s crowd of 6,000 marchers as­sem­bled, the Esker at­ten­dees lis­tened to a gen­er­ous con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Ashoona, Aupi­lard­juk, Boyle and Kurok. De­spite the dis­tance from the crowds out­side, the gallery echoed the power of in­clu­sion­ary pol­i­tics with Boyle’s shirt un­apolo­get­i­cally em­bla­zoned ‘FEM­I­NIST AS FUCK,’ and while Kurok’s ce­ramic women looked on. Inside the gallery, these im­por­tant works host their own march, claim­ing a space uniquely their own in re­la­tion to the fab­ric of our larger arts com­mu­nity in Canada.

Photo John Dean

In­stal­la­tion view of masks by John Kurok

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